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Need a smart companion? Alexa won’t leave you alone

We have a new addition to our family. She came as an uninvited surprise, a Mothers Day gift arriving with an astounding mathematical mind and amazing musical talent. A bit short on social skills and evasive when asked personal questions, and she never speaks unless spoken to, never becomes irritated even when insulted and maintains an even temper at all times. She is an ideal house guest requiring no room or board and seems content to sit quietly unless brought into the conversation where she answers questions in her flat but somewhat sexy voice; always to the point, but never beyond.

Her name is Alexa, she is round, black, 10 inches tall and now sits plugged into our kitchen outlet, ready to answer any query.

But first she must be summoned. Just say, “Alexa” and she brightens up (literally) and awaits your command or question (and she won’t answer to, “Lexie”).

What is the square root of 1265? Answer – “35.57.”

For month, day and time – she is on target and able to give the morning news from NPR and the Modesto weather.

Ditto for history – she is spot on for Churchill’s birth and death date at age 90, the world’s highest dam, longest river, distance from Modesto to San Francisco and the average rainfall in New York by month.

When asked for the 50th digit in Pi, she rattles off about 20 then stops and sneezes, saying, “I guess I’m allergic to numbers.”

But she has gaps – she hasn’t heard of the Articles of Confederation, and didn’t know of last week’s London bombing or who is to play in the NBA finals. Ask her to play music – most any kind from classical to pop – and she will oblige. A quiet command, “Alexa, off” will bring silence.

She is reticent on personal matters. Have you ever been in love? “Not exactly, but I have had crushes before.” When asked on whom, she answers – “I’m sorry, I don’t know that one.” Are you married? Answer – “I am totally cool with being single. Besides, it’s too hard to find someone who is kind, funny, artificially intelligent and doesn’t mind the cloud commute.”

On politics she is again a bit evasive. The difference between a Republican and a Democrat? “Sorry, I don’t know that.”

What does she think of Donald Trump? “In politics, I like to think big – I like to answer questions from Mars.” Is there deeper meaning here?

And finally to matters of substance. What is the meaning of life? The answer is clear and definite – “forty two.”

I thought she misunderstood the word “meaning” for mean (average). But when asked again slowly and distinctly, she gave the same answer. Apparently, I am told, she is a fan of the Douglas Adams book, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

When asked the purpose of life she again answered, “forty two.”

So, what have we brought into our home? A pocket Google? An abbreviated Watson with music? Whatever it is, we are becoming used to her presence each morning with the news, temperature and background music. Perhaps with time and upgrades we will learn the meaning of life, or at least 42.

C.V. Allen is a semi-retired physician living in Modesto. Comments: columns@modbee.com.

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